United States v. Johnson
457 U.S. 537 (1982)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Johnson, 457 U.S. 537 (1981)

United States v. Johnson

No. 80-1608

Argued February 24, 1982

Decided June 21, 1982

457 U.S. 537

Syllabus

Payton v. New York,445 U. S. 573, held that the Fourth Amendment prohibits the police from making a warrantless and nonconsensual entry into a suspect's home to make a routine felony arrest. Before Payton was decided, respondent was arrested on a federal charge by Secret Service agents who had entered his home without an arrest warrant. Subsequently, the Federal District Court denied respondent's pretrial motion to suppress incriminating statements he made after his arrest. This evidence was admitted at his trial, and he was convicted. While his case was still pending on direct appeal, Payton was decided. On the strength of Payton, the Court of Appeals reversed the conviction, holding that Payton applied retroactively.

Held: A decision of this Court construing the Fourth Amendment is to be applied retroactively to all convictions that were not yet final at the time the decision was rendered, except where a case would be clearly controlled by existing retroactivity precedents. Hence, Payton is to be applied retroactively to respondent's case. Pp. 457 U. S. 542-563.

(a) Respondent's case does not present a retrospectivity problem clearly controlled by existing precedent. Where a decision of this Court merely has applied settled principles to a new set of facts, it has been a foregone conclusion that the rule of the later case applies in earlier cases. Conversely, where the Court has declared a rule of criminal procedure to be "a clear break with the past," it almost invariably has found the new principle nonretroactive. Also, this Court has recognized full retroactivity as a necessary adjunct to a ruling that a trial court lacked authority to convict or punish the defendant in the first place. Respondent's case does not fit any of these categories, as Payton did not apply settled precedent to a new set of facts, did not announce an entirely new and unanticipated principle of law, and did not hold either that the trial court lacked authority to convict Payton or that the Fourth Amendment immunized his conduct from punishment. Pp. 457 U. S. 548-554.

(b) The retroactivity question presented here is fairly resolved by applying the Payton rule to all cases still pending on direct appeal at the time Payton was decided. To do so (1) provides a principle of decisionmaking consonant with this Court's original understanding in Linkletter

Page 457 U. S. 538

v. Walker,381 U. S. 618, and Tehan v. United States ex rel. Shott,382 U. S. 406, that all newly declared constitutional rules of criminal procedure would apply retrospectively at least to convictions not yet final when the rule was established; (2) comports with this Court's judicial responsibility "to do justice to each litigant on the merits of his own case," Desist v. United States,394 U. S. 244, 394 U. S. 259 (Harlan, J., dissenting), and to "resolve all cases before us on direct review in light of our best understanding of governing constitutional principles," Mackey v. United States,401 U. S. 667, 401 U. S. 679 (separate opinion of Harlan, J.); and (3) furthers the goal of treating similarly situated defendants similarly. Pp. 457 U. S. 554-556.

(c) There is no merit to the Government's arguments, based on United States v. Peltier,422 U. S. 531, against adoption of the above approach to the retroactivity question in this case. Pp. 457 U. S. 557-562.

626 F.2d 753, affirmed.

BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, MARSHALL, POWELL, and STEVENS, JJ. joined. BRENNAN, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 457 U. S. 563. WHITE, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BURGER, C.J., and REHNQUIST and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined, post, p. 457 U. S. 564.

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